The story began in an ordinary way. A dog in the street attacked a passer-by and bit his finger. The
man shouted out in pain and people gathered around him. A policeman happened to be passing,
looked into the incident and decided he should arrest the owner of the dog and charge him with
leaving his dog loose without a muzzle and putting people’s lives at risk. The policeman asked
whose dog it was and one of the bystanders said it belonged to the general, the governor of the city.
The policeman looked embarrassed and his attitude quickly changed diametrically. Instead of
talking about arresting the dog’s owner, the policeman turned to the injured victim and started to tell
him off aloud. “Listen,” he said, “it’s a gentle creature, very docile and well-behaved. It’s you who
provoked it. It’s you who blew smoke in its friendly face, which forced the poor dog to bite your
finger in self-defence. I’m going to arrest you on a charge of provoking the dog.” That’s the gist of a
wonderful story called A Chameleon by the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), and
the message of the story is that some people, for the sake of their narrow little interests, change their
colour like chameleons and without embarrassment switch their position from one extreme to the
other. I remembered this story while following the savage campaign which the regime’s scribes have
been waging in recent days against Dr Mohamed ElBaradei. For years this man has been the object
of official honours, so much so that the Egyptian state awarded him the Nile Medal, the highest
decoration in the country. At that time the regime’s scribes vied to recount his virtues and
accomplishments (all of them real), but as soon as Egyptians spoke out and called on ElBaradei to
stand for the presidency, the scribes, like the policeman in Chekhov’s story, switched to the opposite
extreme. They heaped curses on ElBaradei’s head, and tried to minimize his importance and tarnish
his reputation. Leaving aside their professional and moral degradation, there are several reasons
why the regime’s scribes are so terrified of Mohamed ElBaradei:
Firstly, it’s now hard for Egyptians to find a better presidential candidate than Dr Mohamed
ElBaradei, who is highly educated (a doctorate in international law from New York University) and
has more international and political experience than President Mubarak had when he become
president. He has widespread international connections and enjoys respect throughout the world. He
has won several major international prizes, besides the Nobel Peace Prize. More important than all
that is the fact that in his great success ElBaradei has not depended on connections or relatives. He
has proved himself by his hard work, his talent and his dedication. That makes him a real model for
millions of young people in Egypt.
Secondly, in all situations ElBaradei has shown that he says what he believes and does what he
says. He stood alone against tremendous pressure from the United States and in 2003 issued a report
in which he told the U.N. Security Council that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which he
headed, had found no trace of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, thereby removing the cover of
legitimacy from the U.S. attack on Iraq. He brought up another outrage by the United States when
he asked what had become of 377 tonnes of explosives which disappeared from Iraq after the U.S.
occupation. After that he took the same honest and courageous position against war on Iran. All this
made the United States strongly oppose renominating him for his post in 2005. As for Israel, it
accuses him of loyalty to Arab and Islamic states.
Thirdly, after ElBaradei reached the pinnacle of professional achievement, he could have gone
into a comfortable retirement and lived with honour and esteem in Egypt or abroad. He could have
flattered President Mubarak with a few words, as many others do. The regime would then adore
him, embrace him and maybe give him a senior position in government. But ElBaradei showed that
his love for his country and his commitment to his principles were greater than any personal
considerations or interests. I have heard from witnesses how ElBaradei met senior officials of the
Egyptian regime and did not hesitate to tell them what he thought of their wretched performance
and how he deeply resented the depths to which the country has sunk. Because of his attitude he
was excluded after that from meeting senior officials. This moral integrity puts ElBaradei above
many men in Egypt who would never dare to oppose President Mubarak or anyone from his family
(even in matters of football). The fact that ElBaradei has not held any official position in Egypt for
20 years adds greatly to his credit, because he has not taken part in corruption, his hands are not
soiled with dirty money and he has not helped deceive Egyptians, rig elections or oppress them. He
has not been hypocritical nor refrained from speaking the truth. Despite living outside Egypt he has
never lost touch with the country. He follows what is happening to Egyptians and feels their
sufferings and problems. Suffice it to say that he donated his share of the Nobel Peace Prize, an
amount of more than five million Egyptian pounds, towards the welfare of orphans in Egypt.
Fourthly, something in the character of Dr Mohamed ElBaradei makes him acceptable to
Egyptians – a mixture of humility, composure, logical thinking, self-confidence and dignity. In the
minds of Egyptians ElBaradei makes a paternal impression of the kind that made them like their
great leaders, men such as Saad Zaghloul, Mustafa el-Nahhas and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Fifthly, the appearance of ElBaradei on the political scene drives the final nail into the plan for
President Mubarak to bequeath power to his son Gamal. The “inheritance project” depended on two
ideas which have promulgated incessantly for some years: firstly the idea that there is no alternative
to Gamal Mubarak as president of Egypt, and then suddenly ElBaradei proves that there are much
better alternatives (in fact it is quite inconceivable to compare Gamal Mubarak with Mohamed
ElBaradei with respect to experience and competence), and secondly the idea which the regime has
habitually presented to Western countries, the idea that there are only two choices in Egypt – either
the Mubarak regime or the Muslim Brotherhood. ElBaradei has also proved the fallacious nature of
this idea, as a man who has won the affection and admiration of Egyptians while staying as distant
as possible from both the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sixthly, Mohamed ElBaradedi will not be easy prey to the Egyptian regime’s usual conspiracies.
The regime will not be able to frame him with a fraud charge or a sex scandal, and will not be able
to throw him in jail on a charge of damaging Egypt’s reputation or inciting chaos. The Egyptian
regime has often used all these depraved methods in the past to get rid of its opponents, but they
will not work with ElBaradei, who already has a spotless reputation and is protected by the
widespread international admiration which he enjoys.
Lastly, just as a proficient doctor diagnoses the most serious diseases with few words, Dr
ElBaradei has managed to put his finger on the defects in the despotic regime which oppresses us.
The conditions which ElBaradei has set for fair presidential elections worthy of respect are exactly
the steps which our country has to take for the sake of a healthy democracy. ElBaradei has made it
clear that he will not agree to play the role of an extra in a drama of rigged elections and has
announced that he will join Egyptians in their struggle for justice and freedom. The appearance of
ElBaradei is a major opportunity for all Egyptian nationalists and must not go to waste. We must
join Dr Mohamed ElBaradei in defending the usurped rights of Egyptians. Dr Mohamed ElBaradei
is expected to arrive in Egypt on January 15 and we all have a duty to welcome this great man with
all the honour and esteem he deserves. We want to show him that his inspiring message has reached
us, that we love and respect him and that with him we will do our utmost to bring about a
renaissance in Egypt and give the country the status it deserves.
Democracy is the solution